ELIDA — The letter from the state came Tuesday informing Elida schools that it would continue to monitor its projected deficit and that a plan could be required at some point.
Hours later, the district’s five-year, 0.75 percent earned-income tax failed by 60 percent and officials knew they would have to begin planning soon for both another try and reductions.
“It is unfortunate. We are in a very difficult situation,” Superintendent Don Diglia said. “The board will have to make some difficult decisions as we proceed.”
Several local districts, including Lima schools, avoided having to make tough decisions of their own. Only Elida and Apollo Career Center saw defeats at the polls. Statewide, 55 percent of school tax issues were approved by voters Tuesday.
The Elida levy would have raised about $2.06 million a year, but instead the district will need to reduce $750,000 from next year’s budget. The board will begin discussing cuts at its regular monthly meeting Nov. 20 or possibly sooner.
“We need to start right away developing that list and putting a plan together so by the first of the year we can announce our plan and people will have time to make adjustments,” Diglia said.
At the top of the possible reductions is going back to a half-day kindergarten program. The state does not require or help fund all-day programs, making it one the district has to look at. The district had previously dropped all-day, everyday kindergarten after a failed levy, but brought it back when a levy failed in 2005. Electives, extracurriculars and employees will all likely be impacted.
Elida faces a $1.33 million deficit in fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1, 2014. The previous year’s carryover is only $264,523. The letter from the state said if the deficit continues the district could be required to submit a written proposal outlining plans to eliminate the deficit. The district has already implemented a two-year $1.29 million reduction plan, and saved additional money this year by closing the Gomer building.
“I can’t give enough credit to our staff because they have been hanging in there and they see the cuts we have made every day,” Diglia said. “Unfortunately we cannot always project those things because people are not in our buildings every day.”
Both Elida and Apollo could go back to voters in May. The deadline to file with the Board of Elections is Feb. 6. Elida would go with a property tax, Diglia said, because it would take three years to get the full revenue flow with an income tax. A property tax collection would start the beginning of the next calendar year. Even a successful property tax would mean reductions for next school year.
Apollo has until next summer to pass a bond issue to take advantage of state money to renovate and expand its building. The state will pay 67 percent of a project. The school asked for additional money for technical and adult education that the state won’t cover. The money would have addressed space concerns, technology needs and infrastructure issues.
“This is not a reason to give up. We still have this wonderful opportunity. We still have this $23 million available to us through August,” Superintendent Judy Wells said. “We have some real needs that are not going to be addressed now or will at least be postponed. Can we repair the plumbing, the electrical systems, put new technology in? No, we can’t because we do not have those kinds of dollars available to us without voter support.”
The 1 mill bond failed with 56 percent voting against it. Voters from multiple counties saw the issue on their ballots. Wells said the board will begin talking soon to come up with a strategy and plan. The next scheduled board meeting is Nov. 26.
Wells said the dialogue will include getting input from business and industry and the community. If the school goes back to voters, it is possible that the request and plan could be tweaked. Wells said there are economic issues to think about, speaking first of current low interest rates.
“It is critical to move to take advantage,” she said. “And there is the economic development issues. We are a key player. We have business and industry saying, ‘We need this, we need that.’ We have to be able to answer that call.”